Spoilers for "The Shield" season seven, episode nine coming up just as soon as I give you a business card...
"Well, that's a decision for when we need to make a decision." -Vic
Has it really come to this?
After having to continually pick my jaw up off the floor after all the stunning developments last week, my reaction to "Moving Day" was less disbelief than sadness, with a side of nausea. We've always known that the members of the strike team did bad things and suspected they were headed towards a bad end, but this? The strike team disbanded? Vic reduced to showing his business card in a futile attempt to get information that came automatically with his real badge? Shane dragging his pregnant wife and ill child around the seedier parts of Los Angeles as fugitives? Vic calmly explaining to Ronnie that Mara has to die as Shane's accomplice, but they can probably let little Jackson live because a two-year-old is too young to be a witness?
God, I'm wincing just typing all of that. Again, I've known from the start of the series exactly who and what Vic is, but to see him and the people around him fall this far, this fast? Wow.
Just an amazing hour, with a pre-credits sequence more intense than most episodes are in their entirety. I thought the show could never top the pre-credits sequence from the season six premiere, with Vic, Shane and Ronnie doing the 21-bullet salute at Lem's grave while Johnny Cash's "I Hung My Head" played, but they did. To have Vic and Shane talk to each other that way on the phone, abandoning all pretense of friendship or camaraderie -- or even a desire to see that the other keeps breathing -- left me gasping for air.
What really struck me in this episode is just how tired Vic looks. He has a weariness that we'd previously seen confined to lupus sufferer Claudette, like he knows his clock is running out and there's precious little he can do about it. If you still have the episode recorded, take another look at the moment at Corrine's house near the end of the episode, right before Mara calls again: he is just worn out by all the games, and lying and killing. But he's also Vic Mackey, and, like a shark, if he stops moving, stops doing what he's always done, he dies.
In "Moving Day," we get to see both Vic and Shane have to operate without the literal and figurative shield of the LAPD. Vic can't get instant answers from the pharmacists, and Shane can't pressure the garage mechanic or the nurses in the emergency room, because it would bring too much attention to who and what they've become. Vic is now considered a CI, at best, by Olivia, his dreams of a cushy landing spot at ICE possibly ruined by Aceveda's ascendancy in the case. Shane can't even go back to his house to get his son's medicine, and has to squat in a vacant house to avoid detection. If they weren't such scumbags, I'd feel sorry for them -- and I definitely feel sorry for poor Jackson.
It's also fascinating, throughout the episode, to watch the contrast between Shane's wife and Vic's ex-wife. Mara, though most fans have hated her throughout her time on the show, sticks by Shane because he was always honest with her about who he was. She fell in love with the actual Shane, and whatever you think that says about her, it at least provides the basis for a stronger relationship than with Vic and Corrine, where Vic always lied to her about his biggest sins. Now that Corrine's starting to realize who she was married to for all those years, she's horrified and wants as little to do with Vic as possible.
I have one complaint with the episode: while Vic holding a gun on the Vendrell family in the hospital parking lot was as chilling as it was supposed to be, I didn't like the follow-up to it. Obviously, Vic can't rat them out to the cops, because they in turn would rat him out. But wouldn't the cops want to take statements from these people who were just held at gunpoint? And, after identifying Vic, wouldn't they at the very least hold him until his former commanding officer showed up to question him? It felt like the episode built up to a confrontation that the writers didn't quite know a plausible way to get out of, so they just rushed past explaining it.
But beyond that, "Moving Day" showed that the intensity is only going to keep building and building as we move towards the finale.
Some other thoughts:
• You know who else I feel sorry for? Claudette, who has to deal with Vic's mess even though he's not even on the payroll anymore. CCH Pounder was marvelous with the weariness and anger she brought when Claudette said, "I've had enough blood," and I like that even Ronnie is intimidated by her enough to tell her a somewhat fictionalized version of the story of Shane and Lem.
• Meanwhile, Julien gets temporarily banished back to uniform, and we see that he somehow managed to emerge from his time in the strike team having only picked up the good lessons. He still plays by the book, but he's also the one who figures out that Dina might be able to point him in the right direction towards finding Shane's new car.
• Dutch has two great stories this week. The Lloyd storyline has definitely grown on me, in part because Frances Fisher has been so wonderful as Lloyd's in-denial mom, in part because it's becoming clear just how right Dutch is about the kid. He is absolutely a budding serial killer, and it does feel appropriate that Dutch's final big arc deals with his pet obsession.
• Meanwhile, the sex offender business with Billings worked as a nice reminder that the difference between Vic and other cops could sometimes be a matter of degree rather than kind. Dutch spells out the parallels a little more blatantly than necessary with the line about not wanting to play Shane to Billings' Vic Mackey, but Steve planting evidence to violate the guy's parole was very much out of Vic's playbook.
• It's been a long time since the series started, so I need some help here: was there ever a point when we were supposed to like Aceveda? Refusing to continue the investigation unless ICE starts supporting his campaign is no more selfish than Vic's attempt to use the case to get himself a new job, but didn't David once upon a time try to position himself as being morally superior to Vic? God, I love hypocrisy; don't you?
• I feel like I haven't done as good a job as I could have in highlighting some of the behind-the-scenes personnel that help craft this amazing television every week. Last week gave us "Sons of Anarchy" creator Kurt Sutter's final script for this series, while tonight's show was co-written by Adam E. Fierro and Lisa Randolph. The director, Rohn Schmidt, has been the series' director of photography since the pilot, but this was only the second time he got to direct an episode. Hell of a job by all involved.
Finally, I should add something that came up in the comments last week: I have now seen the final season all the way to the end. You don't have to worry about spoilers. All my reviews will be written based on the notes I took at the time I watched each episode, and I'm being careful not to so much as hint at anything that's coming.
But I will tell you this: the final two episodes are amazing, maybe the best -- and certainly the most intense -- swan song for a great drama I've ever seen. And I wrote that as someone who loved the finales of both "The Wire" and "The Sopranos." I got to watch the last two at a Fox screening room with a handful of other critics, and we were all shaken by the experience of it. As much as I don't want the experience of watching and writing about this show to be over, I can't wait until you all see the finale so I can finally start discussing it.
As for this episode right here, what did everybody else think?